Maryland Football Coach Ralph Friedgen, Once 401 Pounds, Loses 86 Pounds

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 9, 2009

Ralph Friedgen flipped up the front of his striped Maryland polo shirt yesterday morning and unbuckled his black leather belt. Seven months ago, the football coach couldn't wrap the belt -- a gift from an alumnus -- all the way around his waist, much less cinch it down to the fifth notch. He held one end out, about an inch apart from the other.

"That's about as close as it got," Friedgen said. "I called [the alumnus] the other day and told him I think I'm going to need a new belt."

All of Friedgen's clothes are fitting looser these days. Since October, he has steadfastly adhered to a diet plan and has lost 86 pounds. The 62-year-old coach who preaches discipline to his players finally followed the same principle when it came to his health.

Friedgen said he first realized he was in drastic need of a lifestyle change about a year ago after talking with close friend Bob Cowles, a physician who runs a health-care clinic in Greensboro, Ga. Cowles told Friedgen that if he waited much longer to lose weight, he might not be around to actually do it. He suggested Friedgen consider having one of the doctors at his clinic perform lap-band surgery, and Friedgen traveled to Greensboro for a consultation soon thereafter.

"They told me that when you get into your 60s and you're overweight, things start going bad and they start going bad fast," said Friedgen, who referenced diabetes and ensuing blindness as two possible maladies. "One thing leads to another, and there can be a lot of complications."

After the meeting, Friedgen and his wife, Gloria, researched the procedure on the Internet and discovered potential roadblocks: The lap-band surgery would reduce the amount of food Friedgen would be able to hold in his stomach at one time, and if he ate too much, there was a high likelihood of regurgitation. Gloria, who long had lobbied for Friedgen to lose weight, looked at her husband and said, "You're not going to be able to do this."

Instead, Friedgen went on the diet popularized by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee -- who lost 105 pounds in roughly 10 months by switching to a low-calorie diet -- and said he lost around 30 pounds in April 2008.

"People couldn't tell I lost a pound," Friedgen said. "It was like throwing a chair off the deck of the Titanic."

Aside from that, Friedgen struggled to stick with the Huckabee plan because it required him to shop for certain kinds of food, a task for which he said he didn't have time. He dropped the diet after about a month.

Following one of his weekly radio shows in October, Friedgen was approached by a fan named Paul Intlekofer, who told Friedgen he was concerned about the coach's health. The two sat in a booth at the Outback Steakhouse in Silver Spring and discussed a weight-loss plan Intlekofer said might be more conducive to Friedgen's busy schedule.

Intlekofer happened to be the executive vice president of marketing at Medifast, a company based in Owings Mills, Md. Under the Medifast plan, Friedgen would consume five small meals throughout the day, the idea being that his appetite constantly would be appeased and less likely to desire large amounts of food. Medifast would provide all the food necessary for Friedgen to stay on track, which meant he wouldn't have to trek to the grocery store. Friedgen agreed to try it out, and in the first week he lost 16 pounds, though he notes most of that was water weight.

For breakfast, Friedgen chooses from one of eight flavors of oatmeal. Three hours later, Friedgen eats a snack bar, which is high in fiber, low in carbohydrates and contains 100 calories. Then it's four ounces of soup for lunch, followed by another bar around 3 p.m.

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